by Ryan Simpkins
I want to get a tattoo of this very large very ugly bug. This massive, enraged, monster who was forged in the midst of a Toxic Jungle devouring the Earth and human civilization clinging to it. This creature, this rolly polly looking mother fucker, is an Ohmu. An ugly, angry, defensive thing. These guys are the stars of Hayo Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, a film about a young woman (the titular role) who sees the beauty in the bugs’ worn husks and the truth of their nature. She’s been my hero since I was like 10, and that’s because her movie fucking rocks. Set in the distant future, the human race is barely surviving, kingdoms hostile and desperate for resources as the Toxic Jungle spreads its spores across the face of the earth. Only one small village hidden in a valley remains strong, led by a princess who seeks to understand the natural forces that works to kill them.
Miyazaki’s name commonly evokes childhood memories of cute cartoons about massive flying forest spirits or terrifying ones of parents being turned to pigs. Nausicaa may have been the first Miyazaki film I was exposed to and has remained my favorite since that day in 5th grade where the kids were separated by assigned gender, one half getting told about puberty and the other watching these bugs rule the earth. I rewatched this movie for the I-don’t-know-how-manyth time the other day and became actually literally emotional over how much I loved it. The color pallet changes depending on the location: deep hues of blue and purple filling the scenes of the Toxic Jungle juxtaposed with the lighters greens and yellows of the struggling human civilization. The score reminds us we’re in a dystopian sci-fi with synth tunes coming from an 8 bit video game, familiarly found in the Tron / Blade Runner that the 1980s expected for us. This too is leveled out with a more simple score, music constructed around a simple “la la la” coming from a little girl's voice, reminding us of the youth of our hero as well as the rudimentary levels the Wind Valley’s civilization has come to due to civilization’s collapse. I could watch the first 30 minutes alone on repeat, constructing the beauty of the jungle that could kill Nausicaa in seconds. Her small village protected from the Jungle’s air by the ocean winds and mountain walls, a village filled with people who love and admire a princess who saves men by soaring on her glider and communicating with animals through music. Life is good in these moments, even when an enraged Ohmu hunts one of our protagonists, eyes blind with red rage, or when a massive airship crashes to the valley floor, another princess of a distant land dying in Nausicaa’s arms. These moments of excitement pale in comparison to the devastating antagonism that is to come, making the Valley’s early moments in the film quaint.
Nausicaa deals with all the classic Miyazaki films as bluntly as ever. The film’s clear environmental message comes from the humans’ desperation to fight against the Earth’s forces while Nausicaa works to understand them, recognizing that it is not the end of the world but the end of the human race as is, one that needs to adapt and work with the Jungle and its defensive insects. Miyazaki’s infatuation with flight is present as the Valley’s civilization and irrigation is dependent on wind, Nausicaa seldom seen without her glider. It is anti colonial in it’s genuine antagonist, mostly metal imperial princess Kushana, who comes to the Valley of the Wind to retrieve lost cargo from the crashed airship. Kushana takes the Valley, one of the last homes of the human race as her own, and forces the Valley people to live under her rule and house her war machine. Nausicaa's characterization is inextricably feminist, working to balance conflicting archetypes of “masculinity” and “femininity” to balance into a stable person, a true leader. She moves between being nurturing thinker and pacifist to a violent and determined leader. She suppresses both sides, hiding her love and study of the Jungle’s toxic plants as well as shaming herself when she becomes too emotional. Nausicaa's outfits change color depending on this, moving from calm blue to heated red (mimicking the colors of the eyes of the Ohmu transitioning from angry red to neutral blue). She only reaches true victory in the films end where the Ohmu embrace her as she has them, her outfit holding both red and blue within it, fulfilling a prophecy set up in the film that tells the story of a man.
I won’t pretend I have anything deep to say, nothing overly intellectual or inspired. I’m only writing this because I love this movie. I love the hideousness it invents, how it’s painted with such beauty and care. A nasty massive bug will be the center of a scene of serenity, gorgeous colors and sounds creating a landscape of lovely poison. In the middle is a girl, one conflicted, angry girl with the weight of the human race on her shoulders. And atop that ugly Ohmu surrounded by the toxic air, she is able to just breathe.